Another Long Shot, Virginia’s Jim Gilmore, Enters Bloated GOP Presidential Race

His foreign policy and military experience provide a fresh perspective, but he's not even being included in polling.

By Rachel Alexander Published on July 31, 2015

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore announced on Thursday that he was joining the extremely crowded GOP presidential field, becoming the 17th candidate. His announcement speech focused heavily on national security and foreign policy, reflecting his background in the military and work on those issues while in office. The 65 year old also emphasized his ordinary upbringing. “I am not a billionaire, the son of a former president, or a member of the Washington establishment,” he said. “My Dad worked at Safeway as a meat cutter. My mother was a church secretary.”

Gilmore earned a degree from the University of Virginia where he was a member of the College Republicans. Upon graduation, he joined the U.S. Army as a counterintelligence agent. After serving in the military, he got a law degree from the University of Virginia. He practiced law in a private firm and as a county prosecutor, and became the state attorney general from 1993 to 1997.

Gilmore served one term as governor from 1998 to 2002 (Virginia state law limits governors to one term). He ran on a platform that included creating 4,000 new teacher jobs in public schools and phasing out Virginia’s personal property tax on automobiles, and was generally successful at accomplishing both. He signed an executive order to reduce state spending by all agencies except education. He proposed and signed into law a bill reducing tuition by 20 percent at state universities and colleges. He headed up the Gilmore Commission, a congressional panel that advised President Bill Clinton and later President George W. Bush on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, until he resigned in 2003 due to clashes with Bush.

He also signed into law a ban against partial birth abortion and legislation establishing a 24-hour waiting period and informed consent for women seeking an abortion. He went to court in 1998 to try and prevent a feeding tube from being removed from coma victim Hugh Finn. Gilmore became chair of the Republican National Committee for one year in 2001. He briefly entered the 2008 race for president before dropping out and running unsuccessfully for the Senate.

A Methodist, he is known for his love of Pizza Hut and Miller Genuine Draft. He serves on the board of the National Rifle Association and is the President & CEO of conservative non-profit the Free Congress Foundation, founded by Paul Weyrich. Other than Lindsey Graham, he is about the only candidate with both foreign policy and military experience. As the governor of Virginia during 9/11, he brings a substantial national security component to his candidacy.

It is surprising to most that he is entering the overly crowded race. His name hasn’t even been included in polls. He will not make the first high-profile primary debates, which are limited to the top 10 polling candidates. Political analysts suspect Gilmore is entering the race with an eye on nabbing a position in the presidential cabinet as secretary of defense.

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